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New study to explore the health and socio-economic factors impacting cancer patient outcomes

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC—How do health and socio-economic factors impact the nearly 1.7 million people diagnosed with cancer each year? RTI International plans to explore this through a new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant.

The grant is supporting a collaborative effort to integrate socio-economic data with the Project Data Sphere, LLC (PDS)—an independent, not-for-profit initiative of the CEO Roundtable on Cancer’s Life Sciences Consortium. PDS provides data scientists with no-cost access to cancer trial data and sophisticated analytics software tools.

PDS contains patient information from more than 70 trials, but this information is not complete. The system contains only data related to the clinical trial and does not include information on socio-economic status or medical history, nor comprehensive information on other health. For example, in a clinical trial on prostate cancer, the study data would include information on tumor sizes and drugs used to treat the cancer. It does not comprehensively show how socio-economic factors or other health concerns may have played a role in the treatment.

Patients with lower socio-economic status typically suffer from multiple health concerns, such as obesity and diabetes. And they often have reduced or limited access to care, meaning their treatments begin later. These intervening factors can affect how patients respond to new treatments. By integrating this information with clinical trial data, researchers can gain a broader sense of the effectiveness of a cancer intervention and have a greater ability to predict how socio-economic factors and other health concerns affect various treatments.

“Through this project, we’re providing a way to bring a broader perspective to cancer clinical trial data, which enhances the analytic capacity of Project Data Sphere with nationally representative healthcare data that does not typically characterize a controlled study,” said Steve Cohen, Ph.D., vice president for RTI’s Division of Statistical and Data Sciences.

RTI researchers will integrate information from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS)—a national survey that contains information on families and individuals, and their medical providers—into selected data sets hosted on PDS.

To marry the two data sets, researchers will use a variety of advanced statistical methods, including RTI’s Model-Assisted Data Integration System, which is designed to append variables to datasets in a statistically principled manner that allows researchers to quantify uncertainty. The work will include matching data by simulating probability distributions of datasets within PDS and MEPS. Throughout the process, researchers will pay particular attention to ensuring confidentiality provisions of both data sources are maintained.

“This is ground-breaking research,” said Dr. Martin J. Murphy, chief executive officer of the CEO Roundtable on Cancer. “This study will not only shed new light on the socio-economic circumstances of cancer patients in clinical trials, but also it will help speed the development of new cancer fighting drugs, bringing life-lengthening benefits to both those who join clinical trials, as well as for countless other cancer patients.”

The research will continue through the fall of 2017.